Miner is a folk-rock, family band based in Los Angeles, formed by husband and wife Justin & Kate Miner along with Justin’s brother Jeremy Miner. After self-producing their debut album Into The Morning (2014) in a spare bedroom with a single microphone, singles “Hey Love” and “Carousel” quickly racked up millions of plays, leading the band to recruit Tobias Urbanczyk on drums and head out on a national club tour and festival dates. The band’s swift ascent soon got the attention of producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, The Shins, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses), who signed on produce their sophomore album. But just as they began work on the follow-up record, their world was turned upside down.
The band was on the road halfway across the country when the phone call came. Kate’s mother had been diagnosed with a fatal neurodegenerative condition called Huntington’s Disease, and due to its genetic basis, Kate and each of her sisters had a 50% chance of carrying the disease. The facts were difficult to digest; there was no cure, and if Kate carried the Huntington’s gene she could show symptoms as early as the next five years. Following some somber deliberation, Kate and her siblings made the decision to start the lengthy counseling and testing process in order to find out if they carried the deadly gene.
After the tour they returned home, and yet everything was different. Between medical appointments, Justin and Kate continued to write the songs that would form the second album, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with their new reality. “We knew the new record would inevitably sound and feel different,” Kate says, “but we were also determined to remain optimistic in both our lives and the music.” While reading through an account of Shackleton’s Endurance voyage in a hospital waiting room, Justin came across a passage that mentioned Tuanaki, a “lost” island paradise in the South Pacific that had seemingly vanished into the sea. “The image just resonated deeply with both of us,” Justin explains, “We realized we both were searching for a feeling and time we had lost, before that phone call.” As they neared the end of the writing process, it became clear the album would share the island’s name.
Kate had her blood drawn the same week the band departed for Seattle to record Tuanaki, knowing the results would be waiting for them when they returned to Los Angeles. The band spent every day of the next six weeks in a focused frenzy, grateful for the distraction of work, but also inescapably aware of their unresolved fate. Kate says, “We were forced to confront our mortality on a daily basis during the recording process, but that also reminded us to be grateful for every moment spent doing what we love most.” Looking to capture the scope and sentiment of the new songs, they expanded their sonic palette, largely trading the mandolin and banjo for keyboards and electric guitar. “Music has always been our emotional outlet, but the situation just made it all the more important for us to try and find some sort of catharsis through the music,” says Justin.
The resulting recordings run a varied terrain of emotions and sounds. Songs like lead single ‘Better Instincts’ and ‘Bonfire Cabaret’ retain the familiar anthemic choruses, while adding a lyrical tension born of darker impulses. The melancholic title track ‘Tuanaki’ builds to an epic rock conclusion, then leaves the listener adrift on the sounds of the ocean as it flows seamlessly into ‘Anchors Aweigh’, where the song’s protagonist attempts to find his way home. ‘The Barley Bird’ is a moody retelling of Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale, while the elegiac yet hopeful closer “Carry Me Home” edges towards classic rock, carried by soaring three part harmonies and plaintive banjo over acoustic guitar.
Once home from the studio, the news was bittersweet. The disease had spared Kate, but both of her sisters had inherited the mutated gene from their mother. “It was the hardest and most surreal time of our lives,” says Kate, “but it brought all of us closer together, and it’s continued to remind us to stay present in the moment.” Kate is now active in working with the medical community and policymakers to find a cure for Huntington’s Disease and increase awareness about the condition, traveling to Washington D.C. to speak with legislators and working with charity organizations to organize fundraising events. “Ultimately, Tuanaki is about the difficulty of coming to terms with impermanent existence,” concludes Justin, “and the album is a reflection of the strange journey we’ve been on this past year.”